Archives For Asheville

[The following is a guest post from Star Bustamonte. Star Bustamonte is a certified Aromatherapist and co-coordinator of the Pagan Unity Festival in Burns, Tennessee. She serves as council member for the Mother Grove Goddess Temple, and is a resident of Asheville, North Carolina.] 

This past Monday [August 4th] featured a rally in downtown Asheville to demonstrate how fed up a good portion of North Carolinians are with our state government. These rallies have grown out of protests held in Raleigh, our state capitol, and organized by a coalition of mostly Christian clergy, the NAACP, and a few other activist groups. They started out small, over a year ago, after the Republican held legislature began passing some of the most restrictive and oppressive laws in the country—affecting everything from healthcare, women’s rights, voting rights, huge education cuts, anti-environmental laws, and a lot of other things.

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Over time the protests grew from a few hundred attending to thousands of people showing up. Over a thousand people have been arrested for civil disobedience at these protests to date. The legislature even passed new laws to attempt to prevent people from protesting and making it easier to arrest the people who did protest. Once the legislature went on break, the protesters starting having rallies in other cities. The one in Asheville last year had anywhere between 8,000 and 10,000 people attend (depending on who you ask). I was there and 10K is a very believable number.

This year I attended with several people who are friends and members of the same Goddess temple and I viewed the event more through the Pagan lens than I did the year before. Needless to say, me and mine were not represented. All the clergy who spoke were Christian. Granted there were women who spoke, some quite eloquently, and a female minister who has been on the front lines fighting for LGBT rights, but no Rabbis, Imams, or any other minority faith was represented. Certainly no Pagan clergy.

I’m pretty civically minded, as are my friends who attended. We all believe in some manner that in order to be counted as productive members of the community, participation is required. Sometimes, all that means is you show up and are merely attentive to what is going on. Sometimes, you get to carry cool props, like my friend, Byron Ballard, who brought a pitchfork.

In a twist of irony that only seems somehow oddly appropriate, Byron was the only participant the local paper quoted who was not a speaker for the rally, “We all know they only way you get the monsters out of the castle is with a flaming torch and a pitchfork.”

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Indeed, Byron provided a fair amount of amusement for the rest of us. She invented new verses for the protest song, “We Will Not Be Moved” that involved flames, our elected officials, and a place only Christians believe in. Others around us in the crowd gave us dubious looks as we tried to control our chortlings since they could not hear what Byron was singing. Every time a Jesus reference was made or scripture quoted, Byron would turn around at look at us over the edge of glasses like the way a librarian does when you make too much noise. We all, of course, giggled like naughty children.

It seemed that pretty much everyone in attendance had a particular issue they were championing. Some were obviously old hands at community activism while others, like many of the teachers present, were there due to recent shifts in government that would most certainly impact them directly. I wondered how many of the people present were of minority belief systems and if the overtly Christian overtones bothered them.

2014-08-04_16-59-43_784The more I thought about this in the days following the rally, the more it became clear to me that if any of us who are part of a minority religion want to part of events like this, we have to demand to be included. If we are waiting for a seat at the table to be offered to us, we will likely be waiting a long time. On the other hand, do we even want a seat at the table? I’m a pretty big advocate for separation of church and state, and there is a part of me that cringes at the idea of clergy banding together to bring about legislative changes.

Never mind that I agree with their assessment regarding how the majority of the legislation passed has eroded our rights as citizens and made life that much more difficult for folks just trying to make ends meet. As a society, we need to stand up, together, and say no. But should it be clergy that is leading this fight? Oh sure, at this point there are labour unions, educators, medical professionals and a whole host of other would-be and long time activists involved. But that still does not answer my question of whether Pagans should be demanding to be included.

 

I also must confess that the many references to Jesus and scripture rub my fur the wrong way. I tried to imagine what it would be like if a Pagan had been speaking and referenced a Pagan deity. I honestly think it would bother me almost as much. Can we not come together as a group/society/community and leave our collective deities at the door? Is that too much to ask? I do not really know the answer to any of these questions that have risen up in my twisty brain. The one thing I do know is that I’m very unhappy with the way our state is being run. So even if I have to suffer through speeches laced with references to a belief system that is not my own, I will likely still attend. At least as Pagans we have better props to choose from!

This past Friday in Asheville, North Carolina was the second annual Blessings on the River: an Oshun Veneration & Concert. Held in concert with rites performed at Asheville’s sister city of Osogbo, Nigeria, proceeds from donations during the veneration benefited the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove. The event was sponsored by the Zamani Refuge African Culture Center, with event altars constructed by Mother Grove Goddess Temple. Valeria Osunyemi Watson-Doost from the Zamani Refuge, herself a priestess of Oshun, has posted a four-part video series from the event on Youtube.

Here are the links for part 2, part 3, and part 4. You can also watch footage from the inaugural event last year.

This looks like an excellent example of how a US-based Goddess/Pagan community can participate in an event for the benefit of indigenous pre-Christian religions in far-flung parts of the globe. Local writer Byron Ballard, a member of the Mother Grove Goddess Temple, and blogger for the Asheville Citizen-Times, noted that the event was “a terrific opportunity to connect with people in our community who practice a beautiful spirituality”. I imagine that participants in Asheville and Osogbo have both been enriched by this experience, and that practitioners of Yoruba Traditional Religion have achieved a kind of outreach and understanding rarely found in the United States.

As the modern Paganism movement become an increasingly international phenomenon, we are going to get more chances like this to interact, share, and make alliances with indigenous faiths and revived Paganisms across the globe. Outreach efforts to European indigenous faiths, African traditional religions (and African diasporic faiths), and indigenous faiths in the Americas, Asia, and the Middle East may allow advances we couldn’t achieve alone. I will be tracking this phenomenon in the months to come.

You have to love the Unitarian Universalists, they’re the only religious denomination that’s includes more theological diversity than the modern Pagan movement does. Pagans, Christians, Humanists, Buddhists, and Jews mix and mingle freely at UU churches across the country. So when I heard about the controversy over the election of Cecil Bothwell, a writer and avowed “post-theist”, to the Asheville city council, I wasn’t at all surprised to hear he’s an active member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville. What’s the controversy? He’s making national headlines because local Christians are arguing that he can’t serve because he doesn’t believe in God.

“North Carolina’s constitution is clear: politicians who deny the existence of God are barred from holding office. Opponents of Cecil Bothwell are seizing on that law to argue he should not be seated as a City Council member today, even though federal courts have ruled religious tests for public office are unlawful under the U.S. Constitution. Voters elected the writer and builder to the council last month … Article 6, section 8 of the state constitution says: “The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.” Rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution trump the restriction in the state constitution, said Bob Orr, executive director of the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law.”

The story has made On Faith, Fox, the Associated Press, the Chicago Tribune, and Rachel Maddow (among other outlets).

Naturally, any legal actions to remove Bothwell are ultimately doomed to failure thanks to this thing called the United States Constitution, where Article VI, section 3, states that:

“The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

That not only allows atheists and post-theists to hold political office despite local laws and prejudices, but also allows Pagan politicians like Dan Halloran and Jessica Orsini to do so as well. This right of freedom from a religious test for government office or employment was strengthened by the 1961 Supreme Court case Torcaso v. Watkins, that ruled:

“We repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person “to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.” Neither can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against non-believers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.

In short, it doesn’t matter if you are a theist, post-theist, atheist, or polytheist, you can’t be denied government office or position, at any level, due to your belief, or lack of belief, in divinity. A level playing field that infuriates those who continually insist that America belongs to Christianity alone. A win here for this UU post-theist is a win for all religious minorities, and those concerned about maintaining a separation of church and state.

“I’m fielding e-mails from dozens of people around the country—so far all supportive—and the writers include Christians as well as atheists and Quakers and Muslims and pagans and more. I’ve read some of the thousands of comments posted on blogs and the vast majority of folks support the separation of church and state that has figured so prominently in the history of this country. It is reassuring to me that there is such a broad understanding that freedom OF religion necessarily includes freedom FROM religion, else such a guarantee has no real meaning.”

Congratulations to Councilman Bothwell, may he serve Asheville, and its many Pagan citizens, well.

Asheville Witches Win

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 3, 2008 — 2 Comments

For over a year, Dixie Deerman (aka Lady Passion), a Wiccan from Asheville, North Carolina, has been a driving force in trying to save a century-old magnolia tree from being cut down by local developers. The tree has become a galvanizing issue in Asheville, gaining support from local environmentalists and community members, and being used as a political football in City Council elections. Recently, Lady Passion and others had been keeping a 24/7 vigil at the tree in order to protect it.


Lady Passion under the magnolia tree.

“The Magnolia Tree has become a modern-day Liberty Tree. Citizens of every description — wealthy and homeless, developers and Earth Firsters, seniors and teens, Christians and Pagans, liberals and conservatives, even the mayor, several councilpersons and the police chief — have stopped by to “sit a spell,” share their troubles caused by corrupt government and a collapsing economy, and give us their heartfelt thanks for what we are doing. Many leave offerings for the tree, which seems to exert a magically peaceful aura — partly because, as conservative councilman Carl Mumpower noted when he visited the tree, magnolia bark is known to have anti-depressant qualities. And they add their signatures to the thousands of others on a Stop Parkside! petition.”

Now it seems that the Witches (and their allies) have won. On Aug. 28, Superior Court Judge Marlene Hyatt ruled in favor of the family who had originally donated the land to the county, saving the tree, and the surrounding park, from further development.

“The lawsuit asserted that Pack had donated the land on the condition that it be preserved in perpetuity for public use—and that it would revert to his heirs if it were ever sold for private purposes, as the county did in 2006. Coleman had planned to build the nine-story Parkside condominium project on that land and an adjacent parcel he’d previously purchased. “George Pack made it abundantly clear exactly what the purpose of this land was: It was meant for a courthouse, for county offices or for public purposes,” Ferikes told the court.”

Lady Passion and Coven Oldenwilde are naturally quite happy with this ruling.

“We are thrilled with this unprecidented win, and very appreciative of the over 9,000 people who signed the Stop Parkside petition, the hundreds who actively enabled our tree sit in innumerable ways, and the God/desses who answered our hearfelt pleas: All hail Hecate, Herne, Themis, Maat, Flidais and Nike! We remain vigilant in preventing retribution against the tree until Hyatt signs the official order restoring the land into public use (she’s on vacation at present). Please help us continue to defend the magnolia if you’re nearby; if you live afar, do so by viewing the tree 24/7 via webcam…”

So it looks like those “Barbarous Words of Power to thwart the developer”, and a lot of local activism, have won the day. Congratulations to Lady Passion, Coven Oldenwilde, and the Stop Parkside coalition on saving the tree, and the land surrounding it, from development.